Jul 07, 2011, 11:14AM

In Defense of Derek Jeter

"If Derek Jeter isn’t an All-Star then no one is."

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I never thought I’d ever write anything positive about Derek Jeter but these are strange times. As the Yankee Captain closes in on 3000 hits and prepares to start yet another All-Star game I’ve finally found some appreciation for a previously hated foe. Growing up in Baltimore as a diehard O’s fan meant Yankee hatred was ingrained in my DNA. I hate the pinstripes.

My Yankee hatred reached its apex during the 1996 playoffs when that coward Richie Garcia and scallywag Jeffrey Maier stole game one of the ALCS from the O’s. Jeter was still a youngster at the time and the Yanks hadn’t won anything since the early 80s so my disdain was mostly focused on Paul O’Neill who is probably my all-time most hated athlete. The years rolled by and championships piled up for New York. Over time Jeter evolved into the face of the franchise and thus the conduit for most of my venom.

As the Orioles drifted hopelessly into irrelevance and made no real effort to compete my hatred for Jeter and all things Yankee began to wane. Sure, I still despise the team’s ignorant fans, and the ability to write checks to cover front office mistakes and that damned John Sterling, but where has it gotten me? The O’s still suck and the Yankees still make the playoffs every year.

Maybe fatherhood has mellowed me. Perhaps I’m too busy to focus on hating a bunch of guys I’ve never met who play a sport I was never very good at. Whatever the reason, somewhere along the line I’ve begun to appreciate Derek Jeter for what he is; a future Hall of Famer and one of the best shortstops to ever play the game.

Jeter’s detractors habitually point to his supposedly lackluster defensive stats, claiming that his multiple Gold Gloves are largely a function of his popularity. I think that argument holds some water but there’s no real consensus as to which defensive stats are even the most reliable. If Jeter’s opponents and peers thought he was a good defensive shortstop then that’s good enough for me. Yeah, those pinstripes probably got him a few extra Gold Gloves but that comes with the territory.

Jeter has also been criticized for not being a power hitting shortstop in the Cal Ripken and A-Rod mode. Again, a valid argument but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a great player. I think Barry Larkin is a fair comparison for Jeter. Larkin belongs in the Hall of Fame and I think will eventually get there. If Larkin had played in New York and Jeter in Cincinnati perhaps they would each be viewed differently but we play with the cards we’re dealt.

I’ve heard a lot of criticism surrounding Jeter’s selection to start the 2011 All-Star game. Jeter had just come off the DL when the voting results were announced. While he certainly hasn’t played up to the level of Cleveland’s Asdrubal Cabrera in 2011 he is Derek-freaking-Jeter! Jeter deserves to start the All-Star game for two reasons; 1) the game is for the fans and he won the fan vote, and 2) just as Tony Gwynn and Ripken were All-Stars after their prime Jeter should get the nod for longevity. He’s been a leader, a clutch performer, and a champion, baseball’s most recognizable star for over a decade and never run afoul of the law or media.

If Derek Jeter isn’t an All-Star then no one is. As Jeter approaches 3000 hits I’ve read some blog and Twitter posts clamoring for him to sit so the team can start someone named Eduardo Nunez. Apparently the geniuses in Bronx are ready to cast aside over 15 years of stellar play from an all time great because a reserve infielder from AAA had a relatively good two weeks. Nunez is only 23 and perhaps he could develop into a solid big leaguer but his minor league track record suggests it’s unlikely. In six seasons Nunez has posted a career OPS of just .687. He’s a modern day Kevin Maas, who was crowned the next Lou Gehrig after a torrid few weeks in 1990. Jeter’s greatness has faded into ordinary and the “What have you done for me lately?” Yankees crowd is proving that he was too good for them all along.

  • I just barfed...

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  • With 2,998 hits Jeter has been in papers and blog posts a lot recently, but being newsworthy doesn’t mean he’s playing up to par with his fellow All-Stars, or even his fellow shortstops. According to Fangraphs, Jeter ranks 19th among eligible shortstops and yet he still beat out Asdrubal Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Alexei Ramirez, and Yunel Escobar for the honor of defending the American League up the middle. If it was a simple exhibition game, then Jeter being selected wouldn’t be an issue, after all, the fans are the ones who voted him in, they should be able to see who they want. It’s not that simple, though. The All-Star game foolishly decides which division gets home field advantage during the World Series. Obviously, the AL needs their best men on the diamond. And sadly, for all you Yankee fans, that small army does not include Derek Jeter. With a .257/.321/.329 slash line, Captain Clutch is putting up numbers comparable to Jose Lopez and Omar Infante. If he wasn’t Derek-Freaking-Jeter then he’d have been DFA’d by now, due to his lack of both offensive and defensive production. Don’t think 2011 is his first year as a crummy shortstop. Defensive metrics may be a little unreliable, but a career negative 114.4 UZR is a red flag. For players in the midst of a career year, one that they’re unlikely to ever repeat, an All-Star appearance can be the highlight of their baseball lives. Ryan Vogelsong, a journeyman who has found a niche for himself this year in San Francisco, is in the middle of living the dream. His 2.13 ERA is fourth in the MLB and certainly low enough to earn him a spot on the NL roster. Even so, Vogelsong’s selection has caused a lot of controversy in the media, with analysts citing his lack of past performance and pedigree. That shouldn’t matter, though, as the All-Star game honors the best players of the year, not the ones that are projected to have the best career.Derek Jeter doesn’t deserve a spot on the roster, and his selection only amplifies the need to rework how the midsummer classic operates.

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  • So incredibly shortsighted. If you need fangraphs and UZR to form your opinion of Jeter then you haven't been watching closely enough.

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  • I've clearly been watching closer than you. I just use evidence to back up an objective opinion, not memories from the 90's. Jeter is a below average shortstop on both sides of the diamond and that in no way entitles him to a spot on the All-Star team.

  • Yes, Jeter's not a tremendous shortstop, never has been, aside from his acrobatic plays, epitomized by his flip to the plate to get Jeremy Giambi in the '02 playoffs. That said, the man is a superstar and has been for years. That he's only the 28th baseball player to get 3000 hits, and the first Yank, says it all.

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  • Derek Jeter used to be the man I loved to hate, now he's the man I hate to watch.

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